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Star Trek Deneva - Episode VII - Trial by Fire by John Berkeley

Trial by Fire

"Admiral's Log, stardate 89293.2, U.S.S. Juno, Fleet Admiral Riannah Trealor reporting. After twelve days' travel en route to the starbase, we've finally arrived. On board the starbase is my direct superior officer - Grand Admiral Thomas Jannisson. He has told me that the entire crew of the Juno is to face an inquest into the Crater Nebula incident, and has ordered that no-one is to leave the ship. The crews of both ships are both under station arrest, and the morale aboard the Juno is at breaking point. Admiral Jannisson is coming aboard shortly, and coming through the Terran Wormhole soon, is Jannisson's colleague at Starfleet Command - Grand Admiral Nedian Jarol. The Grand Admirals will question the senior crews of both ships during the inquest, accompanied by investigators from the Military Police division of Starfleet Intelligence.

We're all on edge. It feels cramped aboard the Juno, for we are all confined to the ship under guard. Nothing is permitted to be touched - no-one is allowed on board, the sections of the base we are docked to have been sealed off, and no repair work is allowed to be done. The temporary hull patches and temporary flooring on decks eighteen through twenty have to stay - we are not even allowed to contact friends and relatives remotely. The crew is almost constantly off-duty, with all systems either shut down or under remote control from the starbase.

The main screen in the crew lounge is tuned constantly to INN - a civilian news channel - and most of us stay in our quarters or mill around the lounge. The Crater Nebula encounter has made top headlines, and despite the attempts of Starfleet Command to hush it up, it has spared a great deal of discussion.

Dr. Bashir has valiantly tried stay with commanders Dax and Kelos, and they have been transferred to the starbase's main hospital - however, he is confined to the ship, too, so he has been unable to tend them, leaving to the care of the starbase's medical staff.

The bridge is the strangest place on the ship. As no repair work has been allowed, the weapons, comms, LCARS and science stations still have not been repaired; you can still see down to deck two, and the ceiling and viewscreen have not yet been replaced.

I think I speak for everyone on the ship when I say that I long for this to be over."

Captain's Suite, Deck 2, U.S.S. Juno, Stardate 89293.2

Captain James Holkham awoke with a start. Opening his eyes, he blinked and sat up, frowning at the ceiling. Then he realised what he was looking at, and the now familiar wave of depression swept over him.

Above his head, where there should have been a ceiling, there was a blanket, crudely stuck to the ceiling with magnets. If he were to pull the blanket back, he would be able to see right to the top of the docking bay - lights from windows many hundreds of metres above him would seems like dots, shuttles milling through the bay would seem like birds; the hull of the station like an iron-grey sky.

He could hear, quite well, two sets of noises that he did not normally hear in his quarters, but which he had become well-accustomed to during the long, restless tedium of the voyage back - and the stay in dock. There was the hum of power conduits in the Jeffries tube directly above him, and, below that, the ambient noises - beeps, voices and footsteps - of the bridge.

Or what was left of it, he reminded himself. Ordinarily, of course, this would not have been the case.

A bomb, planted by terrorists intent on kidnapping one of his closest friends had placed a bomb directly beneath his command chair on the bridge. He had been on the bridge when the device had exploded, but by some fluke of luck he had been spared the seething inferno followed by the vacuum of in-rushing space. Three crewmembers had died in the blast. Three of the fifty-four casualties Lianra Paron and her crewmates had inflicted on the Juno in their determination to capture Jadzia Dax.

For that was the reason he was here - that was the reason why, three weeks ago - it seemed like years - the first of many bombs had exploded on the Juno, destroying one of its two nacelles and jerking it out of hyperspace with such violence that the ship was swept clean into the heart of the Crater Nebula.

Everything had gone downhill from there. The ship sent to rescue them had proved to be the source of the bomb - captained by a fanatic, crewed by people intent on the life of his first officer.

Sighing, he rose and dressed.

Bridge, U.S.S. Juno

Lieutenant-Commander Sonak sat at his station on the bridge, leaning back in his chair, his fingers steepled before him. He looked over the bridge, taking little note of what he saw.

Ordinarily, he would have been sitting in the captain's chair, but since none of the three centre chairs existed any longer, he sat at his station, which lay idle before him. There were only three other officers on the bridge - all were working listlessly at their consoles - operations and engineering. Since there was no need for Sonak's station - science - in dry dock, he had powered it down. In any case, it did not work. A great gouge had been sliced across it by the blast of fire that heralded the destruction of the centre chairs, and, although the work station had functioned well in the few days following that, with repairs forbidden, the damage to the station's software had worsened, until now all it was, was spare parts.

A female Bajoran lieutenant straightened in her chair, and turned, clapping a hand to her ear. Sonak remembered that communications operations had been rerouted to her console.

"Sir, we're being hailed by the base."

"Onscreen." Said Sonak, rising.

The screen of her console flicked to the view of the interior of the starbase's vast command centre. In the middle of the picture stood a small group of white-clad officers, prominent as the only white-uniformed men against a background of men and women clad in uniforms of all colours.

There were four men - all admirals - in the centre of the screen. On the far left was a tall, black-haired Vulcan, like Sonak. The two framed pips on either side of his collar and either of his cuffs marked him as a rear admiral. Next to him was a shorter human, evidently from the far east of Earth or one of the colonies of that area, his single, framed black pip showing him to be a commodore. The human man in the centre of the screen was of average height, and was slightly overweight. Prominent jowls framed a large, stern, red face, topped with brushed white hair. On his collar were five framed pips - four gold with a red one at the centre - Grand Admiral Jannisson. On Jannisson's left side was another man - a short man with tanned skin and curly black hair. He was the youngest of the three; his single, gold, framed pip marking him a vice-admiral.

Jannisson was speaking.

"Commander Sonak, the Azure Sea carrier group is coming through the Terran Wormhole. Grand Admiral Jarol will meet me on the Azure Sea before we and the team of investigators will come aboard the Juno at eighteen hundred. Prepare to receive us, please."

"Of course, admiral." Sonak inclined his head.

Jannisson nodded once, setting his jowls aquiver, and cut the transmission.

Sonak tapped his combadge.

"Bridge to all hands. The USS Azure Sea is coming through the Terran Wormhole. All hands, make ready to receive Grand Admiral Jarol and party."

Terran Wormhole, Deneva System, Stardate 89293.2

A point of light appeared in space. The light intensified, before rippling and blossoming into a huge cloud of blue fire - a cosmic bloom of immense proportions. The outskirts of this apparition swirled and twisted lazily, while the centre burst open in a stream of light. Tiny pinpricks of reflected light poured from the maw of this vortex of energy, before with a sweeping flare, it evaporated into the stars, leaving only the little sparks of light it had spat forth.

There was a small cloud of these pinpricks of light, travelling fast, and together, keeping formation. They drew closer, and resolved into indistinct shapes, and then into a majestic sight which had for centuries had been only a figment of wildest imagination in the ancestors of those who now teemed inside these islands of glass and metal in the inky blackness.

The lookout officer on the wormhole monitor station watched calmly as the vast and majestic form of a Dalariné-class carrier swept through the void, her five attendant destroyers in close formation about her. As the immense ship neared, the lookout could read the black letters emblazoned and illuminated on the silver-blue hull of the ship's diamond-shaped command section:

U.S.S. AZURE SEA

NCC - 251549

The huge wing of starships soon reverted to the mere pinpricks of light they had appeared as, speeding their precious cargo to their destination some seven billion kilometres away.

Flight Deck, Deck 64 (aft), U.S.S. Juno, Stardate 89293.9

Holkham stood to attention, his senior staff about him, as they watched the executive runabout approach. Casting a furtive glance about him, Holkham was reassured slightly by the familiar figures of his senior officers standing with him. Barek, M'Gila, Bashir, Sonak and Kell were all there. However, Kelos and Dax, still comatose in the starbase's hospital, were not. To Holkham's right stood Admiral Trealor, her white and grey dress uniform resplendent, her long red hair glowing in the white light from the spotlights high in the roof of the shuttle bay.

Holkham returned his gaze forwards. The deck they stood on stretched ahead of them for about fifty metres before it ended. Thirty metres away from where he stood, a slightly shimmering force field kept the frigid air within the bay, and beyond that, the lip of the shuttle platform curved in a semi-circle - the furthest extremity of the main hull.

Far above and ahead of him, he could see the ship's two nacelles, which, unusually, were in stark contrast to each other. The port one - the one on the right - was shining with light reflected off its immaculate hull, the transparent aluminium covering the warp coils dark and iron-grey in the absence of power.

The other nacelle was dark, too, but in a different way. It was charred and cracked - the transparent aluminium gone, the normally glimmering hull shattered, the surface torn and burnt. That was the nacelle that Paron's bomb had destroyed, at the beginning of the disaster, so many days ago.

Beyond the nacelles was the interior of one of the starbase's vast docking bays. Normally teeming with ships and shuttlecraft, the docking bay was empty, save for seven ships. Docked to one of the docking bay walls many thousands of metres away on Holkham's left, was the relatively flat, compact form of a Valiant-class cruiser. The long, oval command section connected seamlessly with the long, flattened engineering hull, while the two nacelle pylons sloped up, then folded at a right angle, to end in two very long, thin warp nacelles. Like the Juno's this ship's nacelles were dark, but the entire ship's hull was pitted, charred and cratered.

Even at this distance, Holkham could read the words along the ship's side:

STARSHIP U.S.S. HEILONGJIANG

NCC-269597

UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS

Aside from the accursed Heilongjiang, there were the flat forms of five Sagittarius-class destroyers, surrounding the vast form of a Dalariné-class carrier - that could only be the Azure Sea.

Speeding steadily towards them from the Azure Sea was a large executive runabout. As it neared, Holkham felt a twinge of nervousness compete with the insistent, dull headache in his mind.

With an admittedly beautiful ripple of blue light, the runabout pierced the force field, soared above the deck, turned ninety degrees to the left, and touched down before the arrayed officers.

After a discrete interval, the main door on the side opened, and a petty officer jumped down, holding a ship's pipe. He blew a piercing tune, and a ramp extended to the deck.

And two shadows loomed onto the wall behind the door. Two men turned onto the ramp and descended. One was a human man evidently in his fifties. He had white, straight hair, a round, red, jowly face, and was overweight - his belly stretched the white jacket of his uniform. The other was tall, had a prematurely lined, long, face, penetrating eyes, black hair, and two lines of spots running from his temples to below the collar of his white uniform. These marked him, like Dax, as being descended from the southern hemisphere of his homeworld.

Both men wore five framed pips at their collars and cuffs - one red, four gold. They were two of the three most senior officers in Starfleet, second only to the Commander of Starfleet.

As Grand Admirals Jannisson and Jarol crossed the yellow line denoting the edge of the landing pad, the officers around Holkham snapped to a salute.

"Permission to come aboard?" Jarol asked.

"Granted, sir." Holkham saluted as well.

They returned his salute, and, as one, everyone let his or her arm fall.

And, descending the ramp from the runabout was a group of people. Some bore purple uniforms, while the uniforms of the rest were pure black. Ahead of the main group of about twelve were two more admirals and a party of four officers - two with black uniforms, two with purple.

Jarol and Jannisson parted, to allow the six officers to approach.

Jarol raised a hand, and spoke in a deep voice that implied kindness.

"At ease." Everyone relaxed. "Allow us to introduce ourselves. I am Grand Admiral Nedian Jarol, and this is Grand Admiral Thomas Edward Jannisson." He indicated the man to his right. The two Grand Admirals shook hands with Trealor and Holkham.

Jarol turned to half of the group behind him - an elderly Trill admiral, a young Trill man in a purple uniform, and a serenely disinterested-looking Bolian man wearing black.

"This is Commander Kerian Tolan, of the counselling corps," he indicated the young Trill man, who shook Trealor and Holkham's hands, "and this is Lieutenant-Commander Vin'Mar, of the Internal Investigations squad of Starfleet Intelligence." They shook hands with the Bolian, too.

"This is Commanding Admiral Liren Jarmalon, my personal advisor," he indicated the female admiral. The older Trill woman walked over, but didn't offer her hand. The intricate cascade of spots down her temples and neck indicated that she was a native of the southern hemisphere of Trillian. Trealor offered her hand, but Jarmalon pretended not to notice. Her lined, harsh skin and thin cheeks gave the impression she were sucking on a particularly sour lemon.

Jarol raised his eyebrows and Jannisson, who spoke up. "Allow me to introduce my own personal advisor, Rear Admiral Kira Beral." The Bajoran admiral walked up to shake their hands.

"This is Commander Syrna M'Tor of the Internal Investigations squad of Starfleet Intelligence, and Lieutenant-Commander Havon Denor, of the counselling corps." They shook hands with an Andorian woman and a Xantanu man.

"Well, captain," he said to Holkham as he surveyed his senior officers behind him, "it seems you have a fine crew here."

Holkham smiled, but before he could say anything in reply, Jarmalon spoke for the first time.

"But where is commander Dax?"

"She is still recovering from her injuries in the Starbase's hospital. My weapons officer is there too, which is why he isn't here either."

"I didn't ask about your weapons officer." Jarmalon said, icily. "How is commander Dax?"

"Last I heard, she was recovering, but slowly. She's still unconscious."

"What a shame." Jarmalon said, without a trace of sincerity.

"Well, sirs, if you would like to accompany me and captain Holkham to the transporter station, we can retire to my office." Trealor said.

Jarol and Jannisson looked at each other, and nodded.

"Captain's Log, stardate 89299.4, U.S.S. Juno, Captain James Holkham reporting. It is almost a week, now, since the investigation began. Each member of my crew has been interrogated, once, by the team of investigators, while the senior officers and Riannah have been questioned by Jannisson, Jarol, and their six companions. Everything has been questioned, every statement, every estimation, every educated guess. Every dent, hole or scratch in the ship has been examined, from the destroyed nacelle, which we all investigated in a shuttle, to the hole in my quarters where the ceiling used to be..."

They all stood on deck nineteen, by the vast hole that had been gouged in the ship's interior by Paron's second bomb.

"You say, captain, that you were the first on the scene after the explosion?" asked M'Tor.

"Yes, I was. And Barek was with me. We stood there." And looked out over the hole.

"You were on deck twenty-one, then?"

"No. If you look over the edge, you will see that part of this deck has fallen away, held on by the carpet. We stood on that, and it gave way beneath me."

"And that is how you ended up in sickbay, captain?" interjected Denor.

"Yes."

"Mr. Barek, you returned to the scene shortly afterwards. Did you see anything of note?"

"Other than this fifty foot hole, nothing."

"...We were questioned over and over again. Every data log, every sensor record, every memory - each was verified and cross-verified; referenced and cross-referenced. Those of us who were on the bridge during the encounter with the Heilongjiang, and those who came in direct contact with the ship - comms officers, crewmen, and bridge ratings, were taken aside and questioned further..."

"When the late Mr. Whittaker pinpointed the virus to have been transmitted from the Heilongjiang, what did you do, Mr. Sonak?"

"I checked his calculations and performed my own. They tallied exactly."

"And you say that this virus was targeted at the computer's communications and sensor functions?"

"Yes."

"This doesn't look like a virus to me." Protested Jarmalon, indicating the data on the screen.

"It does not look like a virus, no," conceded Sonak. "However, if you look at this code here, you will see a carefully encrypted cascade code that the Juno's computers would be susceptible to."

"We will, of course, run this in simulation, to prove this."

"Now, you're not suggesting that -"

Jarmalon cut Holkham off. "We will ask the questions, captain, if you don't mind."

"Yesterday, Jannisson and Jarol transferred to the Heilongjiang to interrogate the crew of that ship. I personally feel that there is no possible argument for their defence - and when Dax recovers, her testimony at the court martial will carry a lot of weight. In the meantime, we are still confined to the ship, for another ten days, until the investigation ends and the court martial begins. In the meantime, we can only wait. And hope."

Briefing Room, Deck 1, U.S.S. Juno, Stardate 89299.9

The recording was slightly grainy and faint, but the words were audible over static.

Riannah's voice, harsh with anger, crackled through the speakers, while a fuzzy form that could have been her strode form the centre chairs to the top of the steps leading down to the main bridge.

"Captain Paron, you have captured one of our officers. Please explain yourself."

Paron sighed and stood up on the viewscreen. "We are here on behalf of the Symbiosis Commission of Trillian. Commander Dax has behaved disgracefully over the past few months, and in accordance with Trill law, we are here to return her to Trillian, for prosecution."

"As a Starfleet officer, Lianra Paron, you are bound by the first article of Federation Law to serve Starfleet Command and Starfleet Command only."

"Admiral, my orders do indeed come from Starfleet Command. I am here under orders from Grand Admiral Jarol."

"Stop the recording!" Barked Jarmalon.

The screen froze, and Trealor froze, her mouth open on the screen, about to list Paron's crimes.

Mirroring Trealor on the screen, the mouths of the investigating officers were open, too.

"Admiral?" proffered M'Tor, looking across the table at Jarol.

Jarol mouthed for a moment. "I've never heard anything so preposterous in all my lives."

"Grand Admiral," one of the Internal Investigators spoke, "the mentioning of your name means that you must be called as a witness in the court martial."

"He's telling the truth, dammit." Said Jannisson, his fist hitting the table with a shattering crash. "He has been my loyal colleague and friend for forty years, and I tell you, no-one is better placed to affirm his soundness more than I, and I vouch for it."

The Investigator pursed his lips. "Very well, Grand Admiral. The matter will still need to be raised in the court martial, however."

"It was blatantly a lie told in desperation, in the heat of the moment." Declared Jarmalon. "I agree with Grand Admiral Jannisson that that could never be true."

"She seemed pretty convinced of it when she said it." Trealor said, stubbornly.

"Of course she did." Said Jarol, turning to her. "In her last desperate attempt at saving herself she evidently tried using me in the vain hope that she could wow you with important names. Obviously she failed, which is why she detonated the bomb underneath your feet some seconds later."

Jannisson grunted his approval, while the Investigator nodded. "Very well. We will need cross-confirmation from the crew of the Heilongjiang, of course."

Guest Suite 1, Deck 18, U.S.S. Heilongjiang, Stardate 89301.10

"Come in. Ah, Captain, what can I do for you?"

Paron strode in, her face white and her fists clenched. "You can explain this." And she thrust a PADD into Jarol's hands.

"Ah, the preliminary conclusions of my branch of the inquiry, based on the evidence from the Juno." He said, recognising the document. "What about it?"

"Don't take that tone with me." Paron spat. "You promised you would not let this happen."

Jarol rose, slowly, his pleasant expression suddenly replaced with one of purest loathing.

"I said I would not let this happen, if - if, Lianra, you succeeded. That you most certainly failed at."

Paron's face flushed. "I -"

"You failed, Paron. You failed me, you failed the Heilongjiang, you failed your crewmates, and you failed Trillian."

"Did that night mean nothing to you?"

Jarol remembered, with faint disgust, Paron's supple body writhing beneath his own, consumed with pleasure and lust.

"You are talking to a Grand Admiral! I got you this command for a reason, *captain*! I've covered up for you in the past - I am your most powerful ally, so you would do very badly indeed to make an enemy of me! You have already made one of Riannah Trealor and that, my girl, was idiocy!"

"Inspired by you!"

"What?" Jarol's voice was suddenly almost a whisper.

"You gave me instructions - clear instructions about how to carry out that mission, and I followed them! If that hair had not been in the device, none of this would have happened!"

"Do you know whose hair it was, Lianra?"

Paron's face taughtened. "No. Of course not."

"It was yours, Lianra Paron. YOURS!"

Paron stumbled. "You're lying!"

Jarol threw a PADD at her. "There! Deny that!"

She picked it up, scanned it, and choked, weeping.

Jarol felt a surge of vindictive pleasure at watching Lianra Paron, the Iron Woman as she was known in the Royal Guard - the indomitable crusader - spy, assassin, seductress and lover - broken and defeated at his feet. This woman had come close - so close - to ruining his career.

"However, captain, you remain one of my more important assets."

Paron paused suddenly, looking up at him.

"I will forgive this outburst, and put it down to stress and anxiety. But I will not be so lenient in the future. So, when the investigators ask you about your mentioning my name in conversation with that human slut, you will say that you used my name in the heat of the moment, as a last desperate effort to stop the Juno opening fire."

Paron looked shocked.

Jarol gave her a deprecating smile. "What's the matter? Don't you want to admit weakness? Keep in mind that if you don't say that, and say that you used my name in truth, I will no longer be able to be a judge at the court martial, meaning you will have no ally on the board, and therefore will die."

"What about Jarmalon?"

"Jarmalon?" Jarol laughed. "That old hag doesn't give a damn about you. Neither does Tolan. They both see you as a disgrace to the Symbiosis Commission - and to Trillian. I'm the only ally you have left who can help you."

Paron rose to her feet, her face twisted horribly in a mix of indignation, remorse, and gratefulness.

"Now get out of my sight - you're not even supposed to be in here."

She left, so Jarol resumed his seat, and began to subtly re-word his preliminary conclusions.

Main Flight Plane, Deck 30, U.S.S. Azure Sea, Stardate 89309.4

Holkham stood amid his officers, feeling tiny and insignificant in the vast area he stood in.

He was standing on the flight deck of the Azure Sea - a vast area hollowed out of the five central decks of the starship. The decks had been constructed empty of walls and rooms, and then the floor between had been removed, creating an open space some four kilometres long, stretching almost the entire length of the starship. The only walls in the vast space were the outer hull, aside from one or two rooms huddled against it, and this was broken at regular intervals by massive space doors. Holkham felt very small indeed, as he realised that the space he stood in could accommodate the entire length and breadth of the Juno two and a half times over.

The walls were lined with fighters, shuttles and runabouts - hundreds of them, stretching way, way into the distance in either direction, for Holkham stood near the very centre of the area.

Why it was called the flight plane was obvious - to call it the hangar, or the fighter bay, or anything else was not doing it justice - this, after all, was a large, flat area, and it was the largest enclosed space Holkham had ever stood in.

Arrayed beside and behind him were his senior officers, including Kelos, who had recovered well aboard the station. Holkham had not had a chance to speak to him since he had been discharged, for he had come straight to the Azure Sea, having left the hospital only an hour previously. Dax remained on the starbase, fighting for her life. Trealor stood beside him, her fleet admiral's dress uniform and red hair prominent among the others.

About twenty metres to Holkham's right stood Paron and her command crew. Holkham recognised almost all of them and remembered a few of their names. The short man with the angular eyes and dark hair was Valren. The dumpy, middle-aged woman with the coiffure was Enila Jolaran, the chief engineer, and the tall man with the forehead ridges and angular face was Algar, the tactical officer.

In front of the two groups of officers was a large desk, behind which were seated the entire investigation team, with the most junior members on the edges, and the four admirals in the centre, with Jarol and Jannisson sitting right in the middle.

"You have been called here today to be given the results of our inquiry into the events of last month, during which time your two ships engaged in armed, hostile combat with each other, in direct violation of Federation law." Jarol said, in a resonant voice. "Our separate teams will each give their conclusions. These conclusions will be examined and carefully considered by an impartial judge, who will decide upon the bearing of the court martial, to be held here in one week's time."

M'Tor spoke, now.

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly and willingly conspire to capture a Starfleet officer, Commander Jadzia Leanna Dax, in attempt to subject her to unwilling and dangerous brainwashing procedures.

"In the process, they dealt great harm and damage to the United Star Ship Juno, killing fifty-three of its crewmembers. During the process of this failed operation, this inquiry also finds that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly and willingly plot and attempt the assassination of Fleet Admiral Riannah Trealor, a commissioned flag officer in the service of Starfleet.

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, and in accordance with Federation law, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang, are therefore guilty of high treason, conspiracy with intent to kidnap, the repeated sabotage of the United Star Ship Juno, the murder of fifty-three of that ship's crew, and conspiracy with intent to kill."

M'Tor fell silent. Holkham felt a balloon of happiness swell within him - he was vindicated. Paron was going to get the punishment she deserved, and he was on the winning side.

But then Jarmalon began to speak.

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information that we have received and examined, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Juno, and its Alpha Squadron of fighters, did knowingly, and willingly, fire upon the United Star Ship Heilongjiang, with intent to destroy. In the process, three hundred and forty-nine valued crewmembers of the latter ship were killed, and great harm and damage was done to the ship, necessitating a six-month refit and the laying of a new keel.

"This inquiry also finds, in accordance with the information that we have received and examined, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly, and willingly, plant explosive devices aboard the United Star Ship Juno with intent to disable and cripple, in an attempt to kidnap a senior member of her crew, Commander Jadzia Leanna Dax.

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, and in accordance with Federation law, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Juno, and of its Alpha Squadron of fighter craft, are therefore guilty of firing on a friendly vessel, namely the United Star Ship Heilongjiang, the murder of three hundred and forty-nine of that ship's crew, and unprovoked aggression on a Federation starship.

Laren spoke, his voice ringing in the vast space. "They fired on us, too!"

"THE WITNESS WILL NOT SPEAK OUT OF LINE!" Shrieked Jarmalon. She had got to her feet, her tight, lined face twisted with rage; her white hair seeming to crackle with energy.

"The deputy-investigator will continue." Said Jarol in his deep, calming voice.

Jarmalon composed herself, and drew breath.

"This inquiry also finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, and in accordance with Federation law, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang are guilty of the sabotaging and crippling of the United Star Ship Juno, and the murder of fifty-nine of their crew, in the process dealing severe damage to the Juno, necessitating a five-month refit, and the installation of a new warp nacelle."

She sat, still looking daggers at Laren.

Jarol then rose, and addressed the two assembled crews. "I, Grand Admiral Nedian Jarol, of four moths' seniority, and being of sound mind and judgement, do agree with my colleagues in their findings. The complete evidence, along with our conclusions, will be presented to the impartial judge at the beginning of her inquiry, which will begin in two days' time, and continue to the end of the week, after which time, she will decide upon the validity of the points raised, and pass judgement on these two crews at a court martial to be held here, on the U.S.S. Azure Sea.

"You are to return to your ships, and will be escorted from them in six hours' time, to secure quarters located some distance from here, in the starbase's outer docking ring. During the time that will elapse between then, and the court martial, you are forbidden to set foot on, in, or around the United Star Ships Heilongjiang, Azure Sea, and Juno.

"You are also forbidden to set foot on, in, or around, Docking Bay B, the docking pylon in which it resides, or any area of the station within one hundred thousand metres of the bay.

"Also, due to the sensitivity of this investigation, its evidence and its findings, no data concerning this investigation, its findings, its evidence or its comments, will leave the U.S.S. Azure Sea until the court martial is over. Any amendments will be indicated to you in person by a senior member of the investigation, and will be stored remotely on the Azure Sea.

"Due to the severity of the crimes which they have been charged with, the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Juno, along with Fleet Admiral Trealor, are forbidden to leave their secure area during the time leading up to the court martial."

Holkham heard some of his officers groan quietly. Jarol was continuing.

"Due to the extreme severity of the crimes with which they have been charged, the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang will be accommodated in the starbase's detention block, under guard. YOU ARE DISMISSED!"

Bridge, U.S.S. Juno, Stardate 89309.6

Jim Holkham looked about him at the ruins of his deserted bridge. He was drawing in all he could remember, for the next time he would see it, it would be repaired and gleaming once again.

He sat in the helmsman's chair, occupied in the Juno's better days by Elion Laren, the helm officer. Turning in the chair, he looked about him. He was not used to looking at the bridge from this point of view. Ahead of him, coming out from either side, were the two long command panels occupied by flight ops, operations and engineering officers. Rising behind that were three steps, that led to the three central command chairs, the tactical station, the transporter pad, the science station, the bridge's two attendant turbolift shafts, and the doors leading to the briefing room, and the heads on one side and his ready room on the other.

However, part of Sonak's console, the entire front of the science station, and all of the tactical station and central chairs, were gone, to be replaced by a huge hole in the floor. That was where Paron's bomb had exploded, shattering the roof of the bridge in the process, which explained why the bridge was devoid of viewscreen and ceiling, a slightly rippling force-field there instead.

The turbolift doors opened, and he turned sharply, staring out at the vast wall of the docking bay looming beyond the shattered two feet or so of wall in front of him.

He heard footsteps. "Jim?" said a familiar voice.

"Riannah?" he turned. She was standing there, her grey and white uniform in stark contrast to the cascade of red hair that fell almost to her waist.

"Jim." She said again, walking over to him and kissing him. "We should go. Jarmalon's getting impatient."

"Right." Said Holkham, over-heartily, and he rose. She looked at him concernedly, and led him back to the turbolift car. Before he walked in, he took one last look at his bridge, before the turbolift doors shut it from sight.

Guest Suite 47, Starbase C209, Stardate 89309.8

Holkham leaned back in his chair, looking around him. He sighed, irritated. These were definitely not the surroundings he was used to. Rather than his familiar quarters on deck 2 of the USS Juno, these were the stereotypical, well-lit, spacious guest quarters on a Starbase.

He looked out of the window, at the stars beyond, trying to find something. Then, he saw it. In the inky blackness of the void, a tiny red sunburst showed up among the stars.

It reminded him of a ray crater he had seen on Earth's moon as a child. It was a huge planetary nebula - the Crater Nebula. It seemed to him as if some God or other - in a moment of intense fury - had picked up an over-ripe, dark-skinned fruit and hurled it against the heavens. The fruit had burst, spreading its rich, red insides over the heavens in a spectacular sunburst, while the dark skin blotted out a black disk over the interior.

It was there - in that nebula - that the Juno had been so abused - there, that Lianra Paron and her deranged cohorts had sabotaged the Juno and abducted Jadzia Dax.

He slumped himself on his bed, and was on the point of going to sleep when his combadge chirruped.

"Sullivan to Holkham."

Holkham remembered the name of the starbase's chief medical officer.

He tapped his combadge. "Holkham here."

"Commander Dax has recovered, captain. She is no longer comatose, and our treatment appears to have worked. I will keep her here for a few days, but I expect to discharge her shortly."

The balloon of happiness that had deflated on Jarmalon's pronunciation of charges against the Juno swelled again, and Holkham had to stop himself from cheering aloud.

"That's wonderful news, doctor. Thankyou very much."

Central Security, Holding Area J, Stardate 89309.8

Lieutenant Kell Nilea paced in front of a small cell, containing a red-uniformed Starfleet officer and very little else. The slight hum of the force field across its only entrance made it hard for Kell to think. There were other cells occupied by other people, but they faced the ceilings or walls, or slept, leaving the officer as the odd one out.

Sitting behind the force field, on the only piece of furniture in the cell, was a tall, beautiful woman with shoulder-length brownish-blonde hair, and a trail of delicate freckles running from her temples, down her neck and under the collar of her shirt. She sat perched on the end of the small, hard bed, her hands folded on her lap.

"Why are you doing this?" she calmly asked the young Bajoran woman across the hall from her.

Kell turned abruptly.

"Because you're a murdering bitch, that's why!"

"All right, Lieutenant, that'll be enough." The middle-aged human sitting in the controller's chair said, wearily. He was a slightly overweight man, with heavy jowls and thinning, slightly curly brown hair. He was leaning back in his chair, with his feet resting on the console in front of him. Like the imprisoned Lianra Paron, his hands were folded in his lap - except that whereas she had nothing in her lap, he had a long, mean-looking, long, hand phaser. Like Kell, he had a green uniform, but he had commander's pips on his collar and cuffs, and a red flash across one shoulder. Kell's, by comparison, was a rich purple.

"Your friend seems distressed. Perhaps she should be relieved." Paron suggested.

"Perhaps you should shut up." He told her, frankly, fingering his loose phaser.

Paron pursed her lips, raising an eyebrow.

Kell opened her mouth to continue her tirade against the imprisoned woman, but the commander passed a hand over his face and hair, saying,

"Take it easy, Nilea. Look- go and get a drink, I'll get Simmons to relieve you."

The commander twisted slightly in his seat, without moving his feet, and tapped a few commands into the console behind him.

A young man walked in, as Kell left, thanking the commander.

Just then, the commander's combadge chirped.

"Commander Wilkes, this is Admiral Jarmalon." Said a harsh female voice.

Wilkes' reaction was startling. He dropped his feet to the floor at once, leaving a black polish-mark on the console, and sitting bolt upright immediately.

He hastily tapped his combadge in reply.

"Wilkes here, ma'am, what can I do for you?"

"Grand Admiral Jarol has ordered that the prisoners are to be kept under strict guard - he suggests doubling your watches. He will be coming shortly to interview Captain Paron, so ensure nothing happens while he is interviewing her privately. Oh - and give Paron a kick for me will you?" she added, before signing off.

"Aye, ma'am. I'll get double shifts on right away."

Wilkes got up, and put his head into the next room.

"Hey, Martonio! Get in here! We're on double shifts!"

The young Italian man rose and walked in, unholstering his phaser, and Wilkes resumed his seat.

After a while, Paron assumed an innocent expression.

"Aren't you going to kick me?" She asked, coyly.

Wilkes shot his phaser at her instead.

Central Security, Holding Area J, Stardate 89309.9

"Oh, stop blustering, man, and sit down." An irritated Jarol told Wilkes.

"Aye, sir." He sat immediately, on the edge of his seat, poised for action should the revered Grand Admiral require him to do anything.

Jarol had a whispered conversation with Vin'Mar. Wilkes strained to listen, but at a distasteful look from Jarol, desisted.

"Now, I must ask you and your two colleagues to leave us, commander." Jarol said, straightening and looking at him.

"L-leave?" asked Wilkes. "Oh, sir," he wrung his hands, cringing, "I'm under orders never to leave the prisoners unguarded."

"Item one," began Jarol, wearily, "my own guards are here, too. Are you suggesting that they are not up to the task?"

Wilkes cowered and cringed more than ever. "No, sir - never, sir! I-"

"Item two," Jarol overrode him, "I am the one that gave you those orders, and I am now giving you some more. Leave me to interview the captain, if you please." And with a florid gesture, he indicated the door, which opened as if on cue.

Still stammering and wringing his hands greasily, Wilkes rose, nodded and left, hunching his shoulders slightly as if to hide from the Admiral's irritation. The two guards followed, leaving Vin'Mar, Jarol, and two of their Trill guards alone in the room with Paron. The two guards left as well, and stationed themselves on either side of the door, throwing the occasional distasteful glance at the station's security team, and the still cringing Wilkes, overawed by the Grand Admiral's presence.

Jarol walked over to Wilkes' vacated desk and tapped in a command. The force field around Paron's cell shimmered, and vanished into static energy.

"Well, captain," began Jarol, "it seems this is the end of our happy relationship.

"What do you mean?" asked Paron. She had risen to her feet, and was backing away from Jarol as he slowly approached her, a small hand phaser in his fist.

"I cannot afford to let you continue being a burden to me."

"What do you mean?" asked Paron, now edging round her cell as Jarol continued his menacing advance. She was eying the phaser warily.

"You have come very close to making me answer questions that would have ended my career." Said Jarol, still bearing down upon her. "And I cannot let that happen. Surely you can see that it would be fatal for the Commission to lose me as a member of Starfleet Command?"

"What has this got to do with me?" asked Paron, now having turned at the wall, still walking backwards - now out of her cell - still away from Jarol.

"You are part of the Commission. Your loyalty lies with me. Endanger me and you endanger the Commission. Endanger me and you endanger yourself. I -"

But Paron, seeing that nothing lay between her and the desk, gave a strangled cry of triumph, and leapt forwards, to tap a command into the panel. The other inmates - members of her crew, who until now had been lying immobile, leapt to their feet as the force fields around their cells vanished.

Vin'Mar raised his phaser, but Paron, who stood behind him, snatched it from him and shot him, straight in the back of the head, from a distance of no more than two feet.

Jarol watched aghast, his white uniform now stained blue with Vin'Mar's blood, while the crew of the Heilongjiang surrounded him, and Vin'Mar's headless body, as Paron's voice shrieked, triumphantly.

"You are not so powerful as you think, Grand Admiral Jarol."

Jarol drew breath, but, realising what he was about to do, Paron touched the still hot phaser to his lips.

"Ah-ah-ah. Call for those guards and you will go the same way as Vin'Mar."

"What in the name of the winds do you think you are doing?" breathed Jarol, moving his lips. Paron pressed harder against him with the phaser, so that it now pressed on his teeth.

"I am not alone, Jarol, as you may have suspected for a long time."

"I have eyes, dolt."

She pressed harder with the point of the long, suddenly evil-looking phaser.

"You misunderstand me. The Commission is going to change, and when have taken your place at its head, I will destroy you as I have just destroyed Vin'Mar."

"What do you mean?" Jarol found himself repeating Paron's question of not so long ago.

"I," pronounced Paron, with some stress on the word, "and some others have come to the conclusion that the Commission has, in its old age, become soft. Weak." Her lips lingered on the words, moving sensuously as she spoke. "Plans are already in motion. We will strip the Commission bare - raze it to the ground, and build it anew. Gone will be the days that we will bow to the Federation. Gone will be the days when we let the unpure into our ranks. Gone will be the days when we let the unjoined members of our race to lead us so worthlessly, and gone will be the days when people like you gain power in the Commission. We will make Trillian the most powerful member of the Federation, and when the time is right, we will move its capital from San Fransisco to Pareel."

Jarol shock his head slowly. "You're mad." He said. "Every year, there are less symbionts. Every year, there are more unjoined. Every year, there are less Trill being born who can join successfully. The Commission must let them into its ranks, or it will die for sure."

"We would tend to disagree. Now, Grand Admiral," Paron began, conversationally, "I am willing to overlook your shameful condemnation of my ship, and put it down to pressure from Jannisson. We now find our situations reversed, do we not?"

Jarol remembered the scene in his quarters, when Paron had wept at his feet, broken.

"You can join me, or I will spread you evenly across Vin'Mar's uniform as I have done him across yours."

Jarol thought quickly one wrong move, and he would not put it past Paron to do exactly as she said.

He struggled with the words, then exploded. "Very well!"

Paron smiled, and withdrew the phaser.

"But," he continued, listening fast, "you must listen to me, and do as I say, or the humans out there will never let you escape."

Paron considered for a moment, then, throwing him a filthy look, conceded. "All right. But no party games, Jarol, or I will break you.

"Very well." Repeated Jarol, wearily. "Now, you must return to your cells. I will reactivate the force fields. Paron, you shot him, so you can turn Tolan's body over."

"What?" Paron laughed.

"If it lies like that, they will know he was shot from behind. There's so little left that it will be easy to turn over and make it look as if he was shot in the front rather than the back."

Paron sighed and kicked Vin'Mar's body round so that it lay on its back.

"Now, Paron, I'll take that phaser." She reluctantly gave it to him. "I'm going to stun you - make it look as if Vin'Mar and you had a fight."

Paron chewed her lip. "Fine. Do as he says." She spat at her crew, who, very reluctantly, shuffled back to their cells.

Jarol manipulated some controls, and the force fields sprang back again.

Then, without warning, he shot Paron squarely in the chest. She slumped against the wall, unconscious.

"Now," Jarol turned to Paron's crew, "when that slimy human toad asks you all what happened, you will say that Paron smuggled a phaser into the room. Vin'Mar saw what she was about to do and fired at her at the same time she fired her own phaser. I," said Jarol, pulling out a small hand phaser from a holster, "vaporised hers using Vin'Mar's dropped weapon."

He threw the small phaser onto the floor, and fired Vin'Mar's much longer, larger phaser at it. The weapon shrieked and exploded, blowing a small crater in the floor and showering sparks everywhere.

"And I'll find a way to smuggle you all off the station. But, if you do not do what I say, you're on your own."

Despite the mutinous looks he got from the crew, the nodded grudgingly. He nodded.

"Then let's begin this." He raised his head, screaming for the guards.

Guest Suite 47, Starbase C209, Stardate 89309.10

"Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful." Laren said pompously, shaking his head.

"What'll happen to the investigation?" Asked M'Gila, tentatively.

"Commander Carlos Del Ruiz-Garcia Sucré will take Vin'Mar's place on the investigation." Said Holkham, reading from a PADD.

"Isn't he that Ecuadorean man from Starfleet Intelligence?" asked Bashir.

"He is. He also happens to be the only man I've met with a quadruple-barrel surname." Said Holkham, with a small smile.

"How, though?" asked Barek, watching the stars with his arms folded, one hand on his chin. "How did Paron manage to smuggle a phaser into the cell?"

"There's a lot of questions unanswered. However, Jarol's word stands, and the story stands up. The crew of the Heilongjiang all saw it happen, though." Said Trealor.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Holkham, continuing to read down the PADD.

"What?" asked everyone, at once.

"Read this: the impartial judge to decide the outcome of the investigation is appointed: The Right Honourable Ms. Archita Kasmonesh, Judge High Chancellor of the Federation Supreme Court of Inquiry!"

Trealor blinked. "Let me read that." She said, and Holkham gave her the PADD.

Everyone else was stunned.

"But she's the highest judge in the Federation!" protested M'Gila.

"Well," said Kelos, leaning back in his chair, "it has been a very high profile story in the news. I imagine the allegations made about the Symbiosis Commission will have serious consequences for Trillian - and the president."

"Paron will face the charges of Vin'Mar's murder, too, then?" asked Laren

"According to this, yes." Said Trealor, continuing to scan the document. "Kasmonesh will arrive in two days, and - heavens. She'll be escorted by twenty ships!"

Sonak nodded. "It is logical for Starfleet to want to show that they are doing their part for the investigation and the court martial."

"Twenty ships! Think of the fuel costs!" exclaimed Barek.

"That's what the briefing says." Said Trealor, handing him the PADD.

"Well, let's hope she doesn't take any crap from Jarmalon or Paron." Muttered Holkham.

Guest Suite 1, Starbase C209

Jarol had walked back to his quarters as fast as he felt he could without attracting undue attention. The sight of a Grand Admiral sprinting - which is what he had wanted to do - down a corridor would be enough to alarm even the most reserved of crewmembers.

He had lost his lunch almost at once, in the heads, and now he sat on his couch, looking out at the scene before him.

The planet of New Deneva IV hung before him in the void. It loomed large, its rings almost stretching out of sight behind the edges of the window. The vast blue, green, brown and white world, girdled by its blue-silver rings, with one of its moons hanging just over its limb, formed a beautiful sight. Behind it, cutting a diagonal line through the inky heavens, was the galactic plane, with stars and nebulae bright as jewels.

But Jarol wasn't admiring it.

Paron. Everything about that woman disgusted him, from the way she calmly killed Vin'Mar to the way she had manipulated those around her for the past years, from her beautiful face to her strong body, from her ruthlessness to her insatiable lust.

Sighing, Jarol leant forward and picked up his PADD. Upon it was his team's conclusion, that he had presented to the crews of the Juno and Heilongjiang. He glanced out once at Deneva IV for reassurance, and then began to re-write it.

Central Security, Mess Area 3, one hour later

"I have a right to be informed if the inquiry's findings are altered!" Protested Paron.

Jarmalon sneered. "Of course you do." She said, deprecatingly. "It is Admiral Jarol's opinion that we overlooked certain facts and discrepancies in our investigation, and he has re-phrased our conclusion to that effect." And she produced a PADD and thrust it at Paron, who read.

This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly and willingly conspire to capture a Starfleet officer, Commander Jadzia Leanna Dax, in attempt to subject her to unwilling and dangerous brainwashing procedures.

"In the process, they dealt great harm and damage to the United Star Ship Juno, killing fifty-three of its crewmembers. During the process of this failed operation, this inquiry also finds that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly and willingly plot and attempt the assassination of Fleet Admiral Riannah Trealor, a commissioned flag officer in the service of Starfleet.

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, and in accordance with Federation law, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang, are therefore guilty of high treason, conspiracy with intent to kidnap, the repeated sabotage of the United Star Ship Juno, the murder of fifty-three of that ship's crew, and conspiracy with intent to kill.

It was signed by Jarol, Jarmalon, Tolan and Sucré.

"It's the same as Jannisson's!" Protested Paron, aghast at what she read.

"Then you may assume that the two investigation teams are in agreement. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have better things to do that talk to a condemned madman." And, leering obscenely at her, Jarmalon left Paron standing where she was.

Central Security, Holding Area J, Stardate 89309.11

"Commander Wilkes, this is Major Symes. Captain Paron has a visitor."

"Oh? Who?"

"One lieutenant Rilan Edan. He's a member of Grand Admiral Jarol's investigation team."

Wilkes glanced at Paron, whose face had lit up at the mention of the man's name."

"Fine. Send him in."

The door opened almost at once, revealing a tall, harsh-face Trill man dressed in civilian clothes.

"You have five minutes." Said Wilkes, not looking at him.

The Trill man ignored him, and walked over to Paron's cell. Wilkes stood up.

"Did you hear me?"

"Of course I heard, you, commander, or I would have asked you to repeat what you said." Said the Trill man, still not looking at him.

"You will treat me with proper respect, Lieutenant Edan, or I will put you on a charge."

Suddenly, Edan turned, and giving Wilkes a ridiculous bow, with much twirling and fluttering of hands, he said,

"I do hope you will graciously accept my most humble apologies, sir."

Fuming, Wilkes sat down, and lowered the force field around Paron's cell briefly, to allow Edan to step in and talk to her.

Guest Suite 245, Starbase C209, Stardate 89310.0

Rilan Edan, of course, entirely agreed with what Paron had told him. He agreed that Jarol was a threat - fully sympathised with Paron's situation, but at the same time he was unsure.

Paron had told him what to do, and he had relayed this to his superiors, who agreed with Paron's proposed plan of action, but, nevertheless, he thought it was a bit extreme. Still, there would be no problem getting aboard the Azure Sea. The only problem would be getting off again.

Returning briefly to his quarters, he donned his yellow and black Starfleet uniform, attached his lieutenant's pips to collar and cuffs, and left.

Docking Pylon B, Starbase C209, Stardate 89310.0

At the main entrance to the docking pylon, the armed guard stood to attention.

"Do you have clearance?" he asked, curtly.

Edan waved his investigator's badge at the guard, who nodded, and stood aside to let him through.

Edan found himself before a massive, five-storey tall window overlooking the docking bay. Far, far below him, docked to a port in the wall of the bay, was the Juno. Way off to the left was the Heilongjiang, and, stationary, in the centre of the bay, was the Azure Sea. There was no sign of her escorts, which were presumably in another bay.

Edan walked over to a turbolift, which, at his command, sped him down to a shuttlebay which overlooked the port side of the Juno. A gangling young ensign flew him across to the Azure Sea, and he watched calmly as the shuttle moved underneath the Juno's port warp nacelle, the vast shape of the carrier getting larger and nearer all the time.

"Shuttle nine-one-fourteen to Azure Sea, requesting permission to land."

"This is Azure Sea, nine-one fourteen. Proceed to the main aft doors and land at once."

The ensign piloted the shuttle along the Azure Sea's port side, and Edan watched as they passed the slightly rounded prow, at the head of the double-diamond of the command hull. They were passing the command hull, and before very long, the bridge, atop the widest part of the ship. Behind the bridge, the hull narrowed, and became much thicker as it bulged to form the engineering hull - a, vast, roughly cylindrical hull that flattened and tapered gracefully towards the rear of the ship, finally ending in a short, wide door at the back of the flight plane. The ensign piloted the shuttle past the two port warp nacelles, and round the back of the ship, so they were facing the Juno. However, the Juno was entirely obscured by the vast bulk of the Azure Sea. Ahead of them, the ship's colossal backside and the flight plane doors loomed, and the ensign deftly flew the shuttle through them, to land at a platform deep in the bowels of the vast carrier.

Edan made his way deep into the ship. Suddenly, his combadge beeped.

"Jarol to Edan."

"Edan here, sir."

"What are you doing back on board, lieutenant?"

"I'm picking up some things I left behind, sir."

Bridge, U.S.S. Azure Sea

"Lieutenant Merrick, where is Lieutenant Edan?"

The ship's tactical officer checked his panel.

"Deck 42, sir, beta section."

"That's nowhere near his quarters." Jarol mused. "What's on deck 42?"

"Sickbay, hydroponics, astrometrics, main engineering, the computer core-"

Jarol slammed a fist onto his chair.

"The computer core! Mr Dolan, you have the bridge!" he ran over to a turbolift, and they heard him say "Deck 42, beta section!" before the doors shut behind him.

Once he was in the lift, he said,

"Computer, refuse any commands given by Lieutenant Rilan Edan! Authorisation Jarol alpha six-four-nine-one!"

"Affirmative." Replied the ship's computer.

Deck 42, Beta Section, U.S.S. Azure Sea

Edan walked into the towering computer core, and looked about him.

The great hollow cylindrical tower stretched above and below him, rack after rack of crystal-optic data storage chips humming with power. He stood on a gallery some ten levels from the top, and nine from the bottom.

He found the section he was looking for, and tapped in a command at a panel on a wall.

"Computer, perform a level one diagnostic on this section."

The computer made an odd beep. "Warning. A level one diagnostic will wipe all stored data. Ensure that any important data is backed up before proceeding."

"Override."

The computer beeped again. "All stored data in this section will be wiped. Do you wish to proceed?"

"Affirmative."

"Please give level five clearance code."

Edan remembered the code his superiors had told him. "Authorisation Parvez delta two-two-nine-one."

"Code accepted. Commencing diagnostic."

"Override!" Screamed a deep male voice. Jarol was sprinting into the core, a long hand phaser clutched in his fingers.

The computer beeped. "Unable to comply. Diagnostic in progress."

"Computer, cancel diagnostic, authorisation Jarol alpha six-four-nine-one!"

"Unable to comply. Diagnostic in progress."

"You..!" Jarol levelled the phaser, but Edan simply shrugged, and threw himself over the railing. Jarol threw the phaser to the floor, fell to his knees and bellowed with rage, so did not hear the shimmering noise of the transporter as Edan escaped being killed on the hard deck, nine floors below.

Central Security, Holding Area J, Stardate 89310.2

Captain Lianra Paron laughed when she heard the news that the investigation's complete records had been accidentally lost aboard the Azure Sea. Although they sat two rooms away, she still heard Jannisson's bellow of fury when he was told the news. All that remained of the two weeks of the investigation was Jarol's re-written conclusion. Unfortunately, it was identical to Jannisson's, and she knew that when Kasmonesh arrived, she would perform her own investigation.

Paron knew what would come next - she would be questioned by Jannisson about the loss of the data. As it happened with Jarol present, he would need to be questioned, too. Paron would be questioned - asked if she ad any rôle in its loss, and she would deny this. Jannisson would ply her - threaten her, and she knew what she would do.

And she laughed, harder.

One hour later

"Alright!" shrieked Paron, some time later, finally pretending to crack under Jannisson's violent rage. "I'll tell you everything."

Jannisson exchanged a shocked glance with Jarmalon, who was there representing Jarol's team, but Paron knew that Jarmalon was shocked for a different reason.

Paron knew that there was little hope for her now, but that did not matter. All that did matter was that she must hurt Jarol as much as possible, in revenge for his lying to her and her crewmates - his own colleagues and supporters in the Commission.

"Grand Admiral Jarol ordered me to kidnap Dax..." she began.

Guest Suite 47, Starbase C209, Stardate 89311.11

"Computer, time."

"It is twenty-two hundred hours, captain."

"What's wrong, Jim?"

Holkham looked at Riannah, who was lying on his bed, wearing very little.

"I was thinking."

"Obviously." She said, a smile growing on her beautiful face.

"About Paron. I can't help thinking that she wouldn't have confessed to everything without a reason."

"Well," said Riannah, "she did mention Jarol a lot, didn't she? Maybe she wanted to hurt him?"

"But why, though, why suddenly go back and do something she's been working so hard to stop?"

"Don't let her bother you, Jim. Kasmonesh is fair. She'll take one look at the Juno, our report and the investigations', and Paron will get what she deserves. We'll be given a decent month or so of shore live while the Juno is repaired and we'll be back, and you'll be back commanding my flagship again."

"I suppose." Said Holkham, heavily, throwing himself down on the bed, beside her.

Main Flight Plane, Deck 30, U.S.S. Azure Sea, Stardate 89312.4

Holkham and the senior staff of the Juno were once again on parade with the senior staff of the Heilongjiang, before the large, long, silver-coloured table.

He hand watched Kasmonesh's ship arrive, with Riannah.

She had arrived aboard one of the Azure Sea's eleven sister ships, the U.S.S. Oriana. The Oriana had been escorted by four Miami-class ships, like the Juno, two Courchevel-class heavy cruisers, six Sagittarius-class destroyers and eight Adelaide-class frigates, all arrayed around the massive carrier like a spherical flock of birds.

Kasmonesh herself was a tall, imposing-built woman with a strong, powerful face, and greying black hair that was in stark contrast to her dark skin. She was probably the most formidable woman Holkham had ever seen.

She now sat in a high-backed chair in the precise centre of the table, and addressed the two groups of officers in a ringing tone that did not quite hide her Indian accent.

"Grand Admiral Jarol has been named by Captain Paron and her crew as a witness, and so has been suspended as head of his inquisition team. In his place, Commanding Admiral Liren Jarmalon has agreed to take command of the first investigation team."

Her words sparked evident interest from Holkham's officers, whom he could tell were desperate to whisper to each other. To his immense relief, however, none actually made a sound.

"I and my team will make our own investigation of the data and material from the starships Juno and Heilongjiang. In the regrettable absence of material gathered by the previous two investigations, I will base my conclusions on the conclusions of those two investigations, and the material provided me by the two starships and by interviews with their crews. My investigation will begin tomorrow at oh-nine hundred, aboard the United Star Ship Heilongjiang."

Paron had stopped listening to Kasmonesh. Instead, she had noticed a small label on a fighter quite close by.

Danger: Antimatter containment module. Magnetic containment field must remain on-power at all times. Failure to do so will result in immediate destruction of the starship.

Letting Kasmonesh's words wash over her, Lianra Paron permitted herself a small smile.

Docking Bay B, Starbase C209, Stardate 89313.1

Ensign Zaren Tobin was not a violent man. In fact, he would not willingly have hurt a fly. However, he was a man absolutely dedicated to his family, his homeworld, and its ideals. Trillian was not the greatest or most powerful planet in the Federation, but it was home, and to him, that was all that mattered.

He had vowed time and again to preserve his homeworld against any threat - a century ago, as Enara Tobin, he (then she) had defended Trillian against the Dominion and Cardassians. Fifty years ago, as Kial Tobin, he (also, then she) had defended Trillian against the Borg, and then against Species 8472. Now, he was defending it against those who would weaken Trillian and turn it into a haven for the unpure, the un-joined, criminals and half-breeds.

He pondered upon this and more as he piloted his shuttle across the docking bay. He checked a panel next to him, and smiled, satisfied with what he saw. It was working, which is what mattered, and he sped up slightly. Only someone looking right at the shuttle - and carefully - would know it was there, for the panel was linked to an ungainly tangle of wires in the back, surrounding a glowing metal frame housing a large, white sphere, which illuminated the ridges on his forehead, casting shadows over his face. The face of a northerner. The face of a Trill.

A little toy, borrowed from a Romulan shipwreck, hid his shuttle from view, and all there was to indicate his presence was a very slight distortion of the USS Azure Sea behind him.

If he should fail, then all winds would break loose, to use a Trill adaptation of the human phrase. The painstaking efforts of him and his colleagues, enacted for centuries in the deepest secrecy, would be revealed to all, and the humans, being their normal self-righteous selves, would misunderstand and confuse the issue. They would try to stop them - they may even try to press criminal charges. They were so idiotic, sometimes. The humans would inevitably take the viewpoint of the unjoined and the unpure. Offworlders as they were, humans would always take the wrong side. It would take time and effort to convince the humans that the right side was the side of the joined members of the Trill people. It would take too long to convince them of the truth - the only possible truth, and by that time, the Commission would have been crippled by law and protest.

No - better to do it this way, and ensure that that never had to happen.

Tobin had reached his goal. He stopped the shuttle dead in the bay, and slipped on a spacesuit. Picking up a small metal box, he activated it, and vanished. Now, the shuttle appeared empty. Tobin tapped in a command and clipped his helmet on, as, with a rushing noise, a hatch opened up in the floor of the shuttle, expelling the air in the shuttle into the vacuum in the docking bay.

He lowered himself through the hatch, and felt his magnetic boots clamp onto the hull of the ship beneath him. Checking the metal box, he saw that he was still invisible. The tiny metal object - no bigger than a pack of cards - was a modified Starfleet device. Ordinarily, it would not have hidden him from the naked eye, but the use of some Romulan technology had given it the same advantage of its much larger companion a metre above his head in the shuttle - the advantage of a cloaking shroud.

Tobin looked up, and saw nothing but the distant roof of the bay, partly obscured by the round hatch a little to the left of where he stood.

Automatically, the hatch closed, and he tapped in a command on a panel on the hull at his feet, and slipped through onto the United Star Ship Heilongjiang, deserted and dark as a crypt.

Space Traffic Control, Docking Pylon B, Starbase C209

"Sir, someone's boarded the Heilongjiang. Odd. I can't locate them, but someone gave the command for an emergency access hatch to be opened."

"Switch to visual feed from the Heilongjiang."

The hatch appeared on the screen, and the door was open. There was no-one there, but even as the controller watched, a button on a panel glowed and depressed, and the door shut, blocking out the light.

"Activate the corridor lights on the Heilongjiang."

Tobin looked up as the lights came on. They knew he was here, but couldn't see him.

He knew what he had to do. He had come aboard with Jarol's inspection party, and he knew that the Jeffries tube network was completely unblocked - every hatch, panel and door was open to allow a complete, unhindered access to every part of the network.

It would be a squeeze, even without the bulky spacesuit, but he could no longer risk opening doors - not with people watching the ship for any sign of movement.

He clambered awkwardly through the airlock into the ship, but did not dare remove his spacesuit. Awkwardly, he climbed into the open Jeffries hatch, and stole through the bowels of the ship.

Space Traffic Control, Docking Pylon B, Starbase C209

"Anything?"

"Nothing else, sir. The airlock door opened, but the door into the corridor hasn't."

"What about the Jeffries tubes?"

"If they're wearing a spacesuit, they'll have a very hard time moving around down there. In any case, all the Jeffries tubes are open, and some are exposed to space. They won't be able to remove their suit, whoever they are."

Suddenly, the visual feed cut.

"Lieutenant, I didn't order you to cut the feed." Said the controller, irritated at the young woman.

"I didn't cut it sir... I've lost all automated communications and telemetry with the Heilongjiang!"

Guest Suite 1, Starbase C209

Jarol woke with a start as the voice came over the shipwide announcers.

"Yellow alert! All hands, yellow alert! All hands, to your stations!"

The yellow alert klaxons began sounding.

Jarol tapped his combadge.

"Azure Sea, this is the admiral. How the hell can you have a yellow alert in dock?"

"Sir, someone is aboard the Heilongjiang!"

Jarol jumped up. "On my way."

Transporter room 3, U.S.S. Heilongjiang, one hour later

Jarol looked about him, and stepped off the transporter pad. A large amount of spacesuited marines followed him, and they walked through the doors into the corridor.

The ship was dark and quiet. His footsteps made a dull clunk on the deck that was transmitted to his ears through his spacesuit. Somewhere aboard, an invisible person - or persons - he thought with a chill - was doing something they did not want interrupted. The whole situation made him feel uneasy, but he was determined that Paron would not win again.

He rounded a corner, and found himself looking at a panel on the wall. He pointed his phaser at it, and in the light from its flashlight, he saw that the sign read:

Warning: Antimatter canister access hatch. Magnetic containment field must remain on-power at all times. Failure to do so will result in immediate destruction of the starship.

He was thinking about Paron as he read these words. The last time he had seen her, Paron had been smiling to herself as Kasmonesh had been talking about coming round the ship. He remembered Kasmonesh's words.

"...evidence provided by the starships Juno and Heilongjiang..."

Failure to do so will result in immediate destruction of the starship.

It clicked. It made sense. He knew why Paron had smiled - she had had one of her ideas.

"Oh, shit." Said Jarol.

Tobin crouched by the colossal hyperwarp core of the Heilongjiang. The ship was on minimal power - just enough to keep the computer core ticking over and the antimatter canisters on power. The fusion reactors were controlled from the master power display table at the foot of huge hyperwarp core, which was dark.

He had finished tapping in commands, and was about to press the ‘commit' button when the door he had sealed behind him was blown open.

Instinctively, Tobin ducked, but, remembering he was invisible, he straightened again.

His gloved finger was poised above the ‘commit' button.

"Where are you?" said Jarol, into his suit communicator. "I know you're in here! Paron, is that you?"

"I am not Paron." Said Tobin, thinking he may as well taunt the traitor Jarol. "You and your cowardly betrayal of her has robbed our cause of her services. I am one more faithful than you, Jarol."

"Is that Valren? Or Algar?" Jarol said. When Tobin did not reply, he repeated, "Show yourself!"

The urgency in his voice made him sound more and more like a madman.

"I will order my marines to fire at random if you do not show yourself!" shouted Jarol.

"Very well then. But, tell them not to hit the warp core. It would be a shame for us to die so soon."

Tobin ducked again behind the panel, and a volley of phaser bolts illuminated the cavernous blackness of the deserted engineering room.

"I know what you're planning to do!" said Jarol, more urgently. "You mean to destroy this ship! To blow up everything aboard her, and in this docking bay!"

"Why, Admiral, why would I do a thing like that?" asked Tobin, playing for time. As long as he kept Jarol talking there was no chance he would fire.

Jarol, to Tobin's consternation, began walking around the control panels, looking at what was on the screens and frowning.

"You've been busy." Said Jarol, looking at a panel on the far side of the hyperwarp core, as he walked past it.

"That work was not done by me." Said Tobin. "It is data that was called up by your last inspection. Nothing has been touched since. Nothing except for the data on my panel."

"Which one?" asked Jarol, turning wildly on his heel. "Which one is yours?"

"You've already looked at it twice."

"Where? Which one? Which one?" And he began to run between panels. The marines watched their leader uncertainly, and began glancing at panels themselves.

Tobin did not mind when the Grand Admiral came to the master power display table; it did not matter when he saw what was on it's display.

His eyes flicked across it.

"I'll stop you!" he shouted.

"How, when you can't even see me?"

"I'll stop you!" repeated Jarol, and he began pacing around the table. Tobin calmly kept on the opposite side, as Jarol paced around it.

"You are beaten, Nedian." Said Tobin, enjoying cornering the treacherous man - this man who, he had been told, had betrayed so many devoted followers aboard the Heilongjiang only to prolong his own career.

"I'll stop you from doing this. You will be tried with Paron and may you rot in hell!"

Tobin had tired of taunting the admiral, who by now was quite as mad as Paron had said he was.

He re-positioned his finger, poised above the button, and de-activated his cloaking device.

"Aha!" screamed Jarol. Then, he saw what Tobin was about to do.

"No!" he said, lunging forwards, but Tobin's finger had descended on the button, which made a satisfying ‘beep' of acceptance. It was the last sound the panel ever made.

Two hundred metres away, the three large fusion reactors that kept the antimatter canisters on power, shut down. The electric current flowing to the canisters died, causing the magnetic containment fields to fade. Slowly, the compressed antimatter gas expanded as the pressure was relaxed. Closer and closer it came to the duranium alloy of the canister, until, finally, a single molecule of antideuterium touched a single molecule of duranium in canister 3B.

That was all it took. One molecule. The energy released in that explosion was small - no more than a firecracker - but it was enough to overload the fading magnetic field in that canister. The antimatter gas, eager to fill the void that had kept it prisoner for so long, leapt apart and filled the canister within three nanoseconds.

The explosion tore through the already battered and weakened hull of the Heilongjiang, killing Jarol, Tobin, and the ten marines instantly.

On the Azure Sea, people rushed to the starboard windows, unaware that they were looking upon the last thing they would ever see.

Blossoming between the Heilongjiang's twin bent nacelle pylons was a graceful plume of fire. Suddenly, three blinding balls of light erupted within half a second of each other along the Heilongjiang's hull. The whole ship was consumed in light and energy, as a spherical shockwave of brilliant white leapt from the heart of the inferno. Where it touched the wall of the docking bay, it burned away plating and windows, floors, decks, ceilings and bulkheads were vaporised instantly. And when it touched the Azure Sea, the majestic behemoth, the queen of all starships, was hurled over to port, her starboard side a boiling mass of melted metal, fire and smoke. The shockwave made a similar chaos of the underbelly of the ship, as it swept through the docking bay. The Azure Sea was thrown, riding the crest of the wave, as if no more than a tiny model, against the wall of the docking bay opposite to where the Heilongjiang had been.

The enormous ship broke in two, and her own warp core, much bigger than Heilongjiang's - and online - shattered in an instant. The antimatter reaction raged out of control, and a fourth ball of light, far brighter than those which heralded the destruction of the Heilongjiang, blazed in the bay.

A second shockwave, more powerful than the first, erupted from the Azure Sea's collapsing midriff, shattering the hull like glass and burning it to nothing in an instant as it rushed away from the stricken ship. The two shockwaves met and merged, like two bubbles coalescing, and together they surged outwards towards the remaining sides of the docking bay.

At one end of the bay were the two immobile space doors - closed at the moment - huge and solid masses of pure duranium, ten thousand million cubic metres of solid, immovable metal.

At the other end of the bay, the Juno lay berthed at her docking gate.

The officer of the watch, standing at the vast window overlooking the bay above the Juno, saw everything, turned, and ran.

The iridescent shockwave, decaying from pure white to rainbow, rippled and surged along the docking bay, crushing, burning, demolishing and vaporising everything in its way as it surged along the walls.

And it touched the aft tip of the Juno's port nacelle. This nacelle was still whole, and it was inactive so that the transparent aluminium across the length of its shaft was grey and shining. But as the shockwave touched it, the nacelle shone again with new brilliance. Fire and energy rushed along its length, and the nacelle shattered as its companion had done, the explosion bursting through the transparent aluminium and Bussard collector. Before the debris had time to damage the ship further, the shockwave reached the destroyed nacelle on the starboard side.

The nacelle, empty of warp coils and transparent aluminium, and held to the ship with only a weakened pylon, was wrenched clean off its moorings. It shot forwards, riding the shockwave, which had reached the shuttle platform at the back of the ship's main hull. Blinding white flames and energy hugged the ship, caressing it in their deadly embrace as they moved slowly down the length of the ship.

The Juno's own antimatter canisters, almost empty, ruptured and exploded, the plumes of crackling energy punching through the ship's armour as if it were damp paper. The nacelle reached the command hull, and crashed into it, a great cone of debris flying forwards as the nacelle ploughed through the hull. And then the debris was snatched up mid-flight by the shockwave from the dying ships.

The burning hulk was picked up bodily, and the stern heaved upwards, causing the shattered port nacelle and starboard nacelle pylon to smash through the window that the lookout officer had run from, as the two fluted projections at the bow of the ship, now pointing downwards, crashed up against the docking gate, and crumpled, a second before they, too, were consumed by flame.

At the other end of the docking bay, the shockwave hit the doors and rebounded. Confined, the maelstrom of light, sound and energy raged and thundered, while storms of energy and flame gouged away at the insides of the docking pylon.

And then, quite by chance, they found a way out.

Lieutenant-Commander Richard Holmstrom, captain of the corvette Brack was calmly watching the starbase rotate slowly before him, from his ready room off the bridge.

He was admiring its construction - four tall, gracefully curved docking pylons, shaped like pawns from a chess set, were connected to four long arms. These connected in turn, at ninety degree intervals, to a large ring, that girdled the main body of the huge station, which was a rectangular prism, ending in pyramids at top and bottom.

The prism was not solid - rather, it was a hollow construction of girders, each about two kilometres thick, and many hundreds long. In the centre of the base of the upper pyramid was a large cylinder, which extended down through the length of the station, to connect to a vast sphere in the centre, return to a cylinder as it passed the ring, and end by passing the lower pyramid, to finish in a long tower, descending to the southernmost tip of the station.

It was certainly not a conventional design, yet the design specs, as Holmstrom remembered them, had called for a modular design capable of housing facilities with which to govern Federation holdings throughout this area of space, and capable of supporting every starship this side of the Terran Wormhole.

As he watched, Holmstrom sat up as a plume of flame erupted from the side of pylon B, the nearest to him. The plume widened, and then another appeared on the other side, and another underneath, until the whole pylon was a seething cloud of fire and debris.

The energy in the docking bay, having finally punched through the skin of the pylon, rushed out, widening the hole. The shockwaves that had been ploughing through the guts of the pylon broke free on two other sides, and the energy rushed out of the holes, shrouding the pylon in a rush of flames, debris and energy.

Holmstrom rose slowly, watching the awful scene. The flames and rushing debris died and cleared, revealing an awful sight. Holmstrom had, a few seconds ago, been quite proud of his pawn analogy. Now, the base of the pawn, which held the docking bay, had been gutted, leaving the stem, spherical head, and the boom connecting it to the station undamaged.

He rushed onto the bridge.

"Sir, there's been a massive explosion on-" began his first officer.

"Yes, I know, I saw it." Said Holmstrom, waving his hand at the man to be quiet.

"Sir, everyone's going crazy - all ships are contacting the station - all the comms lines are packed." Complained the comms officer, clapping a hand to her ear as she spoke. Then, her eyes widened. "Sir, we're being hailed by the station!"

"Onscreen."

The screen showed three admirals, a Vulcan Rear Admiral, a Spanish-looking Vice Admiral, and an Oriental Commodore. The Commodore spoke.

"This is Commodore Whai Tan Xingjiang, commander of starbase C209."

"Commodore, sir - what happened?"

"We don't know." Replied Xingjiang. Holmstrom became aware that the command centre in the background was going mad - people were running everywhere, yelling orders and reports to the crowd.

"Captain, as the Brack is the closest ship, we want you to go in there - carefully - and tell us what happened. Set up a visual link from your viewscreen to us so we can see it, too."

"Aye, sir." Said Holmstrom, taking the centre seat, as, on the screen, a harassed-looking comms officer screamed "Yes, I know, Enterprise, we're dealing with it!"

Xingjiang cut the channel.

"Helm," said Holmstrom, gripping his armrests, "take us in."

The blasted, skeletal interior of the docking bay looked eerie and evil as Holmstrom surveyed it on the screen.

A huge, long, thin section of the roof had come adrift, leaving a long scar in the charred top of the bay, as it drifted diagonally in the void. The bay, normally empty of ships and craft, was instead thick with debris and smoke that had not escaped through the openings. There was no need for the Brack to use the space doors - the entire Azure Sea carrier group could have flown straight through any of the three holes punched in the two walls and base of the bay with plenty of room to manoeuvre.

The bay, normally roughly rectangular, about twelve by thirty by twelve kilometres, had been widened substantially by the explosion. It was now an irregular sphere, with countless hundreds of charred decks and rooms exposed, thousands of conduits sparking and leaking gases.

There were two very large pieces of wreckage other than the part of the roof. Drifting by one side of the bay, occasionally striking a few exposed decks as it floated languidly, was the port third or so - little more than half an outline - of a Dalariné-class carrier. She still burned, fires across her decks casting an evil, flickering glow across the scene. Fires burned throughout the bay, but the fiercest and most intense came from the remains of the Azure Sea.

The second piece was smaller. It lay, pointing straight down, again occasionally striking the station, near the back of the bay. It was almost unrecognisable, but part of it was clearly a Sceptre IV-class warp nacelle. Another part could have been, at one point in its existence, the command section and deflector dish of a Miami-class battlecruiser. That, Holmstrom knew, was the wreckage that was once the USS Juno, captain Holkham's ship.

Strangely, though, there was no sign of the Heilongjiang.

The command centre was stunned into silence by the awful scene. The sheer scale of the destruction was unimaginable.

"The two starship wrecks were the starships Azure Sea and Juno." Said the science officer. "There is no trace of the Heilongjiang. There appear to have been two explosions, one on the left and one on the right. The one on the right appears to have occurred first."

"Isn't that where the Heilongjiang was moored?"

"Affirmative, sir."

"Is it possible that she could have malfunctioned? Lost antimatter containment?"

"That seems probable."

"So," said Holmstrom, reasoning aloud, "the shockwave would have been deflected off the walls and concentrated towards the Azure Sea, which would have been swept aside..." Holmstrom was gesturing with his hands as he spoke.

"It's possible that the force of the blast caused it to hit the other wall. That could explain the size of the blast."

"Or the shock caused her core to breach anyway," said Holmstrom, irritated at the interruption. "So, we have two hyperwarp core breaches in a confined space of no more than... four thousand, three hundred and twenty cubic kilometres, with at most thirty-four kilometres for the shockwave to travel before it rebounded."

"That is most probably the case, sir."

"Bloody hell." Holmstrom watched the scene for a few minutes. He was about to open his mouth to hail the starbase, but something on the screen stopped him. A piece of debris floated past. It was burnt and charred beyond recognition, but where once had been paint, had been burned in a different way, so that one could just read what the words had been.

STARSHIP U.S.S. JUNO

NCC-289957

UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS

Runabout Severn, Docking Bay B, Starbase C209, Stardate 89313.4

Holkham had felt the blast from the Heilongjiang, felt the second that heralded the destruction of the Azure Sea, and the third, much fainter one, which came with the Juno's rupturing antimatter canisters.

And now, he was watching, unseeing and disbelieving, as the runabout he shared with Trealor and Jannisson flew into the vast hole in the side of Docking Pylon B.

He felt sick. He knew his ship - or most of it - like the back of his hand. He had come to love it - the Juno was his home. And there - was that it? No. But it made him feel ill just the same. It was the wreck of the Azure Sea. It seemed that the ship had been snapped in half down its length and then stripped of its insides, for it was as if someone had drawn a picture of it, looking down upon it, and then cut it away, leaving the port half of the outline and a few dozen metres of decking and hull attached to its limb.

As he watched, the hulk suddenly struck the deck behind it. Debris and sparks erupted where it touched, then faded.

The pilot turned the shuttle slightly, and there - that was it. Less than a quarter of the ship remained. The upper skin of the command hull, now chequered with missing plates, still clung to a few scraps of deck, and, coming down from that, connected to it by a single wall on a single deck, came a lattice-like projection of decks and walls, ending in a charred, scorched and distorted third of the main deflector dish. You could even see the main stargun crystals, melted and broken, in its interior. Embedded in the now empty impulse engine port at the back of the command hull, poking out like some horribly mutated extra limb, was the starboard nacelle, now almost completely destroyed.

He couldn't help himself. He lost his breakfast there and then, ruining Jannisson's white uniform.

Before he could stammer an apology, Jannisson, with an immense effort, told him not to worry about it, and went to change his uniform in the heads.

Riannah pulled an arm around him as tears ran down both their cheeks, as the runabout drew closer to the tangled girders and twisted metal that had been Holkham's first command.

"The date of the court martial has been changed." Said Jannisson, walking back in. Trealor and Holkham turned. "Jarmalon just told me. Kasmonesh is going to hold it the day after tomorrow, on the flight deck of the Enterprise." He turned, as the wreck of the Azure Sea struck the deck again, and looked out over the carnage with his hands clasped in the small of his back.

He sighed. "Jarol was on the Heilongjiang when she blew. He went to try and stop the intruder."

Trealor and Holkham looked at each other.

"He talked to me, just before he went aboard." Jannisson said, sighing again. He turned slightly, so he could see Trealor and Holkham out of the corner of his eyes. He smiled faintly and returned his gaze to the drifting remains of the bay. "Paron was telling the truth to you in the Crater Nebula, you know. Jarol did order her to capture Dax. He told me that Paron had proved to him that she was, in fact, a double traitor, because she's part of a group intent on usurping the Symbiosis Commission. It seems that Trill politics is a dark and Byzantine game."

"Jarol was part of the Commission?"

"Yes. A very senior member, too, or so he told me. But Paron's treachery convinced him that what he had been doing was wrong. That's what made him re-write his conclusion." Jannisson blinked, and turned to face Holkham and Trealor, who were staring at him. "I don't know why I told you that." He said, truthfully. "But I knew Nedian for forty years. He was a strong man, and a good man. I know he would never have done anything without a reason. A good one."

He lowered his eyes and turned back to face the remains of the Azure Sea.

Holkham and Trealor exchanged another glance. Not every day was it that a Grand Admiral confided some of his best friend's innermost secrets to three of his subordinates, two of which were, by quite some considerable way, his junior.

Holkham looked up, and turned away sharply. He had looked at the Juno, by accident. He felt ill again.

"I'll get you another ship, Jim. I promise." Trealor told him, hugging him tighter.

Jannisson cleared his throat. "Yes. That reminds me." Jannisson walked past the bench at the back of the cabin, and into the corridor, to the replicator. They heard him order a glass of cold water, and, returning, he gave it to Holkham.

"Thankyou, sir." Holkham said, faintly, taking the glass and drinking gladly, letting the water clean his mouth of the foul taste of his own vomit.

"Captain Holkham," said Jannisson, facing him, his hands behind his back again. "I understand that your crew has experience flying a Miami-class starship?"

Holkham nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Very well. Captain, it may interest you to learn that the United Star Ship Salerno is nearing completion at the Andarios Fleet Yards in the Catalan System. However, she is still some months away from completion and does not yet have a crew." Jannisson tapped a single command into the panel on his left - evidently, he had planned this.

The computer displayed the ship's insignia. A trumpet, in a laurel wreath, with three stars above it. Written inside the golden circle surrounding the insignia were the words

U.S.S. SALERNO

NCC-289963

Holkham's heart leapt. The first four digits of the registry code were 2899, as the Juno's had been. That meant that -"

"Salerno is the newest of the Miami-class starships. You have my permission to change her registry number to NCC-289957-A, and her name to Juno. If of course, you choose to accept my offer of a new command."

Holkham's heart leapt. A new ship - a new Juno!

"Of course," Jannisson was saying, "she won't be as... well worn as the old Juno. It normally takes a ship a good three months of gruelling service and at least two refits before she gets used to her crew." He smiled.

Holkham smiled, too. "I can't possibly refuse. Thankyou, sir."

Jannisson grinned. "Excellent. I'll have her name, number and pendant transferred to the next batch of Miamis to be built." Jannisson seated himself in the co-pilot's chair, which protested with a loud squeak of springs as he placed his ample backside upon it. "However," he continued, "in the meantime, we need to find you a new post. I cannot afford to have a crew of your calibre doing nothing with the Banthar only a few dozen light years away, and it will take a good year or so before the Salerno - sorry - the Juno-A is completed. I'll have to find another ship for you to serve on in the meantime. I don't know what I'll be able to do, Jim."

"That's fine, sir." Said Holkham, cheerfully. Beside him, Trealor grinned, too, and hugged him. They were a little spot of joy, amid the chaos and ruin that was Docking Bay B.

U.S.S. Enterprise, Stardate 89315.3

Holkham felt uneasy as the runabout he shared with his senior officers neared the graceful form of the USS Enterprise. For, she was the late Juno's sister ship - a member of the Miami-class, and Holkham doubted if there was really all that much difference between them. Granted, Enterprise had a much more illustrious name and a far more experienced crew, but, he thought, when it came down to it, it was just another ship, surely.

Not to her crew. He thought. Not to her captain. If they lost Enterprise they would feel just as bad as we do now.

He watched as they passed the huge letters painted on the ship's side:

STARSHIP U.S.S. ENTERPRISE

NCC-1701-J

UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS

The Enterprise's similarity to their old ship was having a similar effect on the rest of the crew, Holkham noticed. They were looking sadly up at the graceful lines; at the way the port nacelle pylon was connected seamlessly with the side of the ship; admiring wistfully the way it angled forwards and upwards, to vanish over their heads as it was obscured by the top of the runabout's windows.

The crew had all been shocked and dismayed at the news of the Juno's destruction. Dax, newly out of the starbase's hospital, had listened aghast as Trealor, Bashir and Holkham explained what had happened to her.

She now sat on Bashir's left side, her hand in his, mirroring the way Holkham and Trealor sat on the other side of the aft cabin.

Holkham looked uneasily around as they rounded the curves shuttle platform at the stern of the ship, and manoeuvred to enter the shuttlebay. As they turned, Holkham caught a glimpse of another large, silver-coloured table, behind which were sat a long line of dignitaries. This table, however connected seamlessly with a two-tier podium, and though he couldn't see who was sitting at its top and on either side, Holkham could guess. Jannisson on the left, Jarmalon on the right, and Kasmonesh in the centre.

The runabout landed, and they were instructed to leave the aft cabin and go down into the hold, to the sound of pipes whistling. As they filed out and made for the rows of benches in front of the table and podium, Holkham saw that another runabout, carrying Paron and her crew, had landed at the same time as them, on their runabout's starboard side. They were filing around the starboard side of the room, to occupy the benches on that side. The Juno's crew moved to fill the benches on the port side.

The tale and podium stretched all across the back of the shuttlebay, and at either wall, followed the right-angle made by the wall, and became a terraced set of benches, facing inwards. These benches were presumably occupied by the jury.

In the centre of the space enclosed on two sides by the jury, in front by the table and podium, and at the back, by the two sets of seats, there were two platforms.

The table and podium all faced aft, and were placed at the back of the main level of the shuttlebay. Behind it, on the left hand side, behind Jannisson's team of investigators, a massive banner hung to the ground. It was red. Upon it was, in the centre, a huge insignia, which was painfully familiar. Inside a golden circle was a stylised picture of a beautiful woman on a throne, holding a shield in one hand, and a spear in the other. At the top of the circle, in the style of the old British Navy from national Earth, was a set of wooden sailing ship hulls and sails, formed into the shape of a crown.

In black letters around the golden circle were the words

U.S.S. JUNO

NCC-289957

On the right hand side, behind Jarmalon's team, was a blue banner. This was the Heilongjiang's insignia, another crown-topped gold circle, with a picture of the old country of China, again from national Earth. The north-easternmost part of the country was shaded, and painted in front of the crude map were a number of red Chinese letters.

In black Federation Standard letters around the golden circle were the words

U.S.S. HEILONGJIANG

NCC-269597

Once they had all sat, Kasmonesh, who indeed occupied the centre and topmost seat of the podium, rose.

"Before this court martial enters session, I will address you all. Two days ago, the United Star Ships Azure Sea, Juno, and Heilongjiang were destroyed in a massive explosion aboard this station, as you are all by now aware. This explosion not only destroyed the ships, but much of the evidence required by the jury to form its own conclusions. In the explosion, also, Grand Admiral Nedian Jarol was killed. Most fortunately however, the investigation groups, their official conclusions and memories, were not in any way affected. At the request of the President of the United Federation of Planets, the jury is to base its conclusions on what these investigations concluded, and upon what we hear at this court martial."

She sat, picked up a wooden hammer on her podium, and rapped it once, hard on a small, round, wooden disk.

"This court martial is now in session. Grand Admiral Thomas Edward Jannisson, if you would give the jury the conclusions of your investigation, please."

Jannisson rose, and said in a deep, resonant voice,

"This inquiry finds, in accordance with the information we have received and examined, that the officers and crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang did knowingly and willingly conspire to capture a Starfleet officer, Commander Jadzia Leanna Dax..."

It was the same conclusion that M'Tor had read out at the address on the flight plane of the ill-fated Azure Sea.

When Kasmonesh asked Jarmalon to give her conclusions, she gave precisely the same speech.

Once Jarmalon had regained her seat, Kasmonesh called Paron and Holkham to the stand.

She questioned each of them personally, before allowing Jarmalon and Jannisson, who had presumably been briefed in what to do, to ask their own questions.

This she did with what seemed like every possible combination of people sitting in the room. The court martial took an age, although, for not one instant was Holkham bored. He, like the others around him in the left hand seats, was intent on catching every word. He wanted to be sure that Paron- the woman that had cost them all so much - got what she deserved.

There were occasional breaks in the court martial, during which time the crews of the two ships were herded off to different areas of the Enterprise, to talk and eat. Holkham found it painful, walking around this ship that could so easily have been his own. Once or twice, he even thought he was back aboard the Juno. Then he would remember the awful scene within Docking Bay B, and the horrible reality came swarming back to him.

Kasmonesh listened to each man and woman intently. After four breaks, and an age, Kelos and Algar were finally ordered to re-take their seats.

Kasmonesh whacked the wooden disk again, with her hammer.

"Very well. We will now take a two hour recess for the jury to consider their verdict."

During the first few minutes of the recess, no-one talked. They sat in the main crew lounge, watching the bustling activity of Docking Bay A. It was very different to how Docking Bay B had been. This bay was bustling with activity. The walls were a forest of sterns and warp nacelles. Ships of all manner, every shape, size, colour, race and design were gathered here. There were Ferengi traders, Romulan, Klingon, Kalrathaan, Trill, Vulcan, Andorian, Human, Federation, Cardassian - even one or two Banthar - ships docked here, all engaged in trade, re-fuelling, repair or resupply. The space between them was thick with shuttles, tugs, tenders, runabouts, workbees and spacesuited workmen. In the middle of the bay, in the position the Azure Sea had occupied in bay B, stood the Enterprise.

They talked very little, and sat mostly in silence, all hoping that the outcome would be what it should be. Dax sat next Bashir, and each had one arm around the other. Similarly, Holkham and Trealor sat with an arm around the other as well.

When the two hours were up, they made their way back towards the shuttlebay at the stern of the ship. Now they would know. Now they would be vindicated or accused.

They retook their seats, and, once they had sat, the jury filed in. Kasmonesh sat, observant as ever, at the top of the podium. Below her on either side, Jannisson and Jarmalon sat on the same level, not looking at anyone.

When the jury had all sat, Kasmonesh whacked the wooden disk.

"The jury will now give its verdict on the crew of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang."

Right on cue, the man sitting at the top-leftmost extreme of the left-hand jury box rose, and raised his right hand.

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

He sat, and the woman next to him rose, her right hand raised, too.

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

And the next.

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

Again and again the six syllables echoed through the polished metal of the shuttlebay. When the bottom-rightmost woman in the left-hand box had issued the damning words, Kasmonesh turned to her left, and the top-rightmost man in the right-hand box rose, his right hand in the air.

"Guilty, upon mine honour."

Mirroring the other side of the jury exactly, the men and women rose to pronounce their verdict, which was unanimous.

When the last cry of "Guilty, upon mine honour." Had faded into its last echo, Kasmonesh whacked her hammer on the wooden disk.

"Very well. I hereby find the senior staff of the United Star Ship Heilongjiang guilty of all charges, and of crimes so heinous, the like of which has never before been heard by this court. Because of the severity of the crimes you have committed, you are hereby sentenced to execution by firing squad." She spat the words distastefully and whacked her hammer on the wooden disk.

"I hereby find the senior staff of the United Star Ship Juno innocent of all charges. You acted in defence of your ship and crew and were perfectly within the bounds of Federation law. Case closed."

She whacked the wooden disk, one last time.

Jarmalon began to clap. But she was not smiling. A look of savage triumph was on her face. Jannisson began to clap, too, and the applause spread, but it was not a joyful sound. It was a terrible, sinister noise that spread from person to person, and with it the expression of mingled triumph and disgust spread from face to face.

Holkham looked to his right, and had seen that Paron had had the grace to bow her head where she sat.

Main Promenade, Starbase C209, Stardate 89311.5

Dax and Trealor stood together by the huge windows on the main promenade, watching the sunrise on Deneva IV. At the moment, the planet's disk was black, lit only by the faint glimmer from cities below the atmosphere. The rings were lit, though, but cutting them in two was the planet's shadow.

The two women watched, silently, as the planet's right-hand limb grew faintly silvery.

Across the walkway from them, someone ducked behind a feathery-leaved Andorian palm growing out of a large terracotta pot, and unfastened his case. Inside was a dismantled phaser rifle.

The silvery glow intensified, and slowly spread up and down the planet's limb, getting slightly brighter.

Concentrating hard, the man pulled out the main chassis of the long, evil-looking weapon in one hand, and the trigger mechanism and hand guard in the other, and carefully slotted them together.

The rings girdling the planet glittered with light reflected through the planet's atmosphere, as the glow brightened from silver, to blue.

The man pulled the crystal housing from the case, and fitted it onto the end of the gun chassis.

The glow brightened still further, and soon Dax and Trealor, and the others watching the sunrise, could see the faintest hints of oceans and continents in the steadily increasing glow.

Behind the Andorian palm, the man shot a furtive look around, then pulled out the aiming telescope mount and fitted that onto the top of the growing weapon.

The thin sliver of ocean that Dax and Trealor could see glittered and shimmered with reflected light. For a split second, an arc of rainbow light replaced the glowing silver crescent as the sunrise grew nearer.

The man fitted the silencer, careful not to attract anyone's attention. Briefly, he checked the small device on his belt. The metal box, no bigger than a pack of cards, was working fine.

On the wall behind Trealor and Dax, sunlight was edging steadily from left to right across the promenade.

The aiming mechanism clicked home, the shoulder pad slotted in, and the man raised his rifle. No-one saw him, for all eyes were on the glorious sunrise, now.

Without warning, a blast of light heralded the first sunrise, and, everyone looked away briefly. A small ball of fiery blue light had burst from behind the planet's limb, the smaller of the two Denevan suns.

The man took careful aim, painstakingly making the crosshairs line up exactly with Dax's shoulderblades.

Suddenly, a second blast of light, brighter than Trealor remembered, heralded the rise of the second, larger sun. As the glow, magnified by the planet's atmosphere, receded, Trealor felt Dax collapse at her side.

"Jadzia?"

Dax lay on her front, a burnt hole squarely in the back of her blue uniform, stained black with blood.

Trealor turned sharply to see where the phaser blast had come from, in time to be struck across the chest with the second blast. She was flung backwards by the force of the phaser bolt, a terrible wound opening across her front, to slump against the wall next to Dax. Her once white admiral's tunic was stained crimson.

People were screaming, calling for help, as, uncaring and unseen, the man was beamed away to a waiting shuttle on the other side of the station.

Central Security, Holding Area J, Stardate 89311.5

Paron jerked awake in her cell as the alert klaxons sounded.

"Intruder alert! Intruder alert! Emergency medical teams to Main Promenade, blue section, at once!" shouted a voice over the intercom.

Paron knew what had happened. She turned over in her bed, so the guards would not see her, and grinned. There was only one thing that alert could mean. Dax was now dead, as she had once been and was always meant to be, and Trealor, the young human admiral, was dead with her. They hailed Trealor as the greatest leader in Starfleet. Now, those that sang her praises would sing her laments at her graveside.

Comforted by the knowledge that the last of her great enemies was now dead, Paron returned to her sleep.

Elsewhere on the starbase

James Holkham sprinted along the corridor as fast as he could. He had to get to a transporter station as soon as possible. He had to - he had to.

The startled crewman manning the station stared as he skidded to a halt and clambered onto the platform.

"Main hospital." Holkham breathed, clutching at a stitch in his side.

Slowly, so slowly, he felt the tingle of the transporter descend over him.

Main Hospital, Starbase C209

Holkham materialised on the hospital transporter, to be greeted by a nightmarish sight.

Occupying the two nearest beds to the transporter were two women. One had a black uniform, and long black hair. She lay on her front on the bed, immobile. The other had a red uniform and long, slightly curled red hair that had come loose from its clasp and now hung around the head of the bed.

Then, he realised that Dax and Trealor were wearing their proper uniforms of blue and white - they were discoloured by blood.

A frantic nurse walked over to him.

"Captain Holkham, I must-"

"What happened?" he asked, almost shouting. He ignored the scandalised looks he was given by the other nurses and doctors.

"Captain, please -"

"What happened?" bellowed Holkham.

"Captain, come with me, please." Instructed a tall, elderly male medical officer. "I'll tell you everything in my office.

Unseeing, Holkham followed him into his office. He took no notice of the chair he sat in - no notice of the room or even the state of his own hurriedly assembled uniform. His attention was held solely by the doctor who now sat in front of his desk.

"Captain, Admiral Trealor and Commander Dax were shot by an unknown agent on the main promenade."

This did nothing to calm Holkham - if anything it worsened his temper. He leapt out of his chair, and ran to the door, but it would not open. The doctor had locked it behind them

"Captain, please," said the doctor, "th-"

"Is she all right?" roared Holkham. "She needs my help!"

"Captain, please, listen to me. She is in a most serious condition, but I must implore you not to try to get to her. She needs the entire attention of skilled medical officers, not unskilled men such as yourself.

Dimly, Holkham registered that, perhaps, the doctor was right. He sat down, then realised something.

"And you - why aren't you helping her?"

"I? I cannot - I am an optician. I can do nothing to help."

Holkham slumped in his seat, and felt a huge lump in his throat.

The doctor looked at him kindly for a moment, and then rose. He walked over to a replicator in the wall behind his desk, and said,

"Two mugs of Terran hot chocolate, hot."

Two steaming mugs of cocoa materialised before him. He took them to his desk, and set one in front of Holkham.

Holkham did not look up.

The doctor sighed, and picked up his own mug. Turning to his computer panel, he sipped the hot chocolate once, replaced it on the glass top of the desk, and began to type.

A few minutes later, Holkham looked up. "How is she?"

"Both women are in a very critical condition, I am sorry to say. The would-be assassin used a silencer, so no-one knew anything was wrong until the women collapsed. The silencer did, however, take the edge off the phaser's power - had it not been there, both would have been killed, instantly.

"As it is, both are in comas. The phaser hit Dax squarely in the back. It fractured her spine and did a great deal of tissue damage - it almost stopped her heart. The Admiral's, I'm sorry to say is worse - the blast caught her across the front as she was turning, and has done massive damage to her lungs and heart.

Holkham choked, and felt a tear running down his cheek.

Suddenly, the doctor's combadge beeped, and a voice said,

"Doctor Lewis, is Captain Holkham with you?"

"Yes, he is."

"Good. We've had a transmission from the Royal Naval Starship Jarenol of Trill. They suspect that the shootings were carried out by renegade Symbiosis Commission operatives, as revenge for the condemning of Paron and her crew. That's all we have, but I thought the captain would like to know, considering..." the voice trailed off.

"Thankyou. I'll tell the captain. Lewis out."

Holkham felt a prickling anger rising within him. The Symbiosis Commission! Again!

Sighing, the doctor turned to face Holkham, the enormity of the task before him all too obvious.

"Captain's Log, stardate 89312.0, U.S.S. -"

"Damn. Computer, erase last three letters."

"Captain James Holkham reporting. I've just left the main hospital, where Dax and Riannah are lying, comatose. They were shot - an assassination attempt - and they nearly died. However, thanks to the efforts of the station's medical team, both have survived. Whether they will recover fully or not is still to be seen. They are still undergoing emergency surgery.

I made a new friend today - doctor Matthew Lewis, an optician aboard the starbase. He calmed me down after I found out what had happened. He's a very nice man, actually, and I'm glad to have had him to talk to.

Earlier today, I attended the execution of Lianra Paron, and although I feel guilty at the feeling, I'm glad it happened. Paron face the firing squad standing proud and defiant, with no blind. Valren and Algar both screamed and wept as they were led to the wall, and I left, unable to watch.

Despite the fact that she is no longer a threat, Lianra Paron will remain - however unwanted - in the memories of us all, for I doubt any of us can ever forget what she has done to us."

Holkham paused, unsure of what to say next. Unable to think of anything, he swore in frustration, and hit the desk in front of him, hard.

"Computer, end log." He sighed.

 


Proceed to Episode VIII

 

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